Amid a debate about free speech in the Internet era, UCLA announced Friday that it would not proceed with any investigation or disciplinary action against the student who produced a controversial online video in which she complained about Asian students’ behavior and crudely mimicked Asian languages.
“While we were appalled and offended by the sentiments expressed in the video, we have uncovered no facts to lead us to believe the student code of conduct was violated. The campus has no intention of pursuing the matter further,” UCLA spokesman Phil Hampton said in a telephone interview Friday.
The campus code prohibits students from making specific threats against anyone and forbids racial or sexual harassment that is severe or pervasive enough that it impairs another person’s participation in university life. The video by Alexandra Wallace, a third-year political science major, did not meet those standards, he said.
First Amendment activists said they were pleased with UCLA’s decision and said that other colleges should act similarly, as other students elsewhere are certain at times to post silly and offensive things on YouTube and Facebook. However, some said UCLA should not have announced earlier in the week that it was looking into possible discipline, and that UCLA Chancellor Gene Block should not have issued a statement denouncing the video.
I should note, just to anticipate one common response, that as with much idiocy not much would be lost to the First Amendment if this particular sort of statement, and only this sort of statement, somehow magically vanished. I watched the video, and it’s nonsense.
But the same rationale that would justify punishing a student for this video would equally justify punishing students who argue (on video, in newspaper articles, or what have you) many other things. If the theory is that the speech can be restricted because it somehow creates a “hostile educational environment” for a particular group, the same could be said of statements that — just to give a few examples — (1) immigration from some countries should be cut off because immigrants from those countries disproportionately have certain bad traits, (2) there are sex or race differences in intelligence or temperament, (3) homosexuality and those who engage in it are immoral, (4) fundamentalist Christianity / Catholicism / Scientology / atheism is an evil belief system, and that those who adhere it are either evil or stupid, (5) that American Jews are morally complicit in Israel’s supposed crimes, and a vast range of other speech.
The premise of the American university (and, I think, American self-government more broadly) is that people need to be free to express their views, whether the administrators and others see those views as morally right or morally wrong, so that social and political decisions can be reached based on actual discussion, and not mere force — and so that we can be confident that the things we believe are wrong are indeed wrong, rather than just that they have become unquestioned orthodoxy because challenging them can get you expelled. And to implement that premise, boneheaded statements have to be as protected as more well-reasoned statements.